The NY Daily News said today that NBC executives are exploring the option of replacing Jay Leno with Jimmy Fallon as host of The Tonight Show when Leno’s contract runs up in May 2014. The Daily News doesn’t have an official word on the matter, but they do cite several talent agents who have been quietly contacted by the Peacock Network about finding a new comedian to take over for Fallon on Late Night. The Daily News also says that there’s “a long unsaid understanding throughout the TV industry that Leno won’t step down until Dave [Letterman] does.” Letterman’s contract runs up in 2014 too, but there’s no indication that he’ll be retiring then. It’s been less than three years since the early 2010 Conan/Leno fiasco, and this seems awfully fast for another late night conflict to be taking place, but Leno is getting up there in years. He’ll be 64 when his contract runs up in 2014, just slightly younger than Johnny Carson, who was 66 at the time of his retirement and considered very old for a late night host then.
If Fallon gets the job in 2014, he will have had the shortest tenure for a host of NBC’s Late Night. I’d argue that Late Night is now the most prestigious franchise in late night talk in the wake of Leno’s wave of destruction and refusal to leave The Tonight Show eroding the legacy that show once held. If he leaves for The Tonight Show in 2014, Fallon will have spent five years on Late Night, significantly less than Conan’s 16 or Letterman’s nine. It’ll be kind of unfair if Fallon spends just five years on Late Night before being given the Tonight Show throne, when Conan and Letterman slaved away at 12:35 for much longer before having Leno pull the rug out from under them, but at least Fallon getting the gig will make The Tonight Show worth watching for the first time since Conan’s spectacular exit. If we have any hope of defeating Leno in 2014, let’s start this “Team Fallon” movement right now.